©By Cheryl Bolen
The three most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs during the Regency — White’s, Brooks, and Boodle’s — were all located on the same street (St. James) in London’s west end, and all are still in existence today.
But don’t expect to see any signs out front.
Most members of these private establishments in the borough of Mayfair come from the upper echelons of society. Their male ancestors have likely held memberships since the clubs moved to St. James Street in the late 1700’s. When Prince Charles married Diana, he hosted his bachelor party at White’s. His son, Prince William, is also a member.
White’s, originally a chocolate shop in 1693, moved to 37-38 St. James in 1778. During the Regency it was strongly associated with Tories. Members could take their meals at the club, and they especially enjoyed the gambling, as well as White’s well-known betting book. The book recorded bets about battles during the Napoleonic wars and often included bets on prospective matrimonial partners. It was at the club’s famed bow window that Lord Alvanley bet a friend £3,000 (over $100,000 today) which of two raindrops would fall fastest.
Brook’s, founded in 1764 by a group of men which included four dukes, moved to 60 St. James in 1778. While many prominent men of the era held membership in both clubs, Brook’s was a bastion for Whig leaders such as Charles James Fox, the Duke of Portland and the Duke of Devonshire. The Prince Regent was a member. Like White’s, Brook’s also had a betting book. One of its most interesting entries is, “Ld Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500gs whenever his lordship f**** a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from earth.” Boodle’s is located directly across the street from Brook’s. Established in 1762, Boodle’s has also boasted many famous members, including Beau Brummel. More recently (relatively speaking), it was author Ian Fleming’s club. He bases James Bond’s club on Boodle’s.
One of the chief attractions to gentlemen’s clubs was the select gambling. Gentlemen of their class always paid their debts of honor.